Memories will have to replace Derby

Just like everyone else, we’ve been saddened here at the Tuley’s Takes home office to miss out on March Madness, the start of the baseball season, the Masters and the NBA and NHL playoffs. But now the shutdown of sports hits even closer to home: The Kentucky Derby was to be run Saturday.

The Derby has been run on the first Saturday in May every year since 1945, when it was postponed a month due to World War II. Despite what VSiN colleague Jonathan Von Tobel seems to think, I’m not old enough to remember that. In fact, my first Derby memory is Affirmed winning in 1978 on the way to the Triple Crown under teenage jockey Steve Cauthen. I don’t remember watching Secretariat in 1973, though I’ve seen his races hundreds of times, so it almost feels like a real memory. Same goes for Seattle Slew in 1977. But I’ve paid attention every year since 1978, even though I didn’t really get into handicapping and betting the races until 1990 when I was working in the Chicago suburbs.

I’ve had my share of Derby winners over the years. Even more times I lost the Derby but still came out ahead because of the undercard. The Derby is just one race, and it’s important to remember it’s part of a full day of racing with recreational players throwing money in the pools, so a lot of betting opportunities arise. I learned that in the 1990s, and it became more apparent when I moved to Las Vegas in 1998 and really had my eyes opened when seeing the parties here. I’ve been to Derby parties at Caesars Palace, Imperial Palace, Bally’s, Palace Station, Las Vegas Hilton, Wynn Las Vegas, South Point, Treasure Island and even some Leroy’s/William Hill properties.

Of course, I’ve also had losing Derby days. But I can’t help but think a losing Derby day would still be better than no Derby day at all, though we’re holding out hope that we’ll have the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in September. I have plenty of “woulda, coulda, shoulda” stories (that’s a nod to a book by former Chicago Sun-Times racing columnist Dave Feldman from when I was learning the game), but the “one that got away” story I want to share is about Giacomo, the 50/1 winner of the 2005 Derby.

As most of you know, I love betting long shots in horse racing as much as I like underdogs in other sports. While handicapping the 2005 Derby, I really thought a fast early pace would set it up for a closer, and the closers I liked best were Wilko and Giacomo. Now, to understand where my head was at the time, I had given out Wilko in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in the Daily Racing Form and on local radio in Vegas. Of course, I was biased because Wilko had come through for me, so I put all my eggs in one basket on Wilko in all the stories, radio shows and seminars I did for the Derby. Unfortunately, Wilko finished in the middle of the pack, while Giacomo closed from the clouds and won at 50/1. I learned my lesson that I should have at least had a $20 win and place saver on Giacomo as his odds continued to rise. That would have returned $1,484, as he paid $102.60 for a $2 win bet and $45.80 to place. Heck, a $2 exacta wheel with Giacomo over all would have cost a mere $38 and returned $9,814.80 after 70/1 long-shot Closing Argument ran second. I had already made those bets using Wilko, but thankfully I saved that other $78, right?

That was frustrating, but it also gives us hope that we’re (mostly) playing the right way and our time will come for the truly big payoffs, especially on these big racing days.

Speaking of big payoffs, I’m asked every year for plays in the Derby futures, but I stopped playing those seriously about a dozen years ago. I realized the odds I was getting should have been odds to get into the Derby starting gate, as most of my plays never even ran on the first Saturday in May. Oh, I often place a small token bet or two, but I leave that analysis for VSiN colleague Ron Flatter and others. I’m sure you’ve heard of bettors who got in early on Derby winners, especially in recent years with American Pharoah and Justify winning not only the Derby but the Triple Crown. But for every bettor who got a hot tip on one of those colts being the real deal, I could dig up dozens of emails and texts from people who seemed to have equally credible inside information on the next superhorse. I’m glad I don’t have a Kentucky Derby future this year, since everything is turned upside down with the race delayed at least four months and most prep races canceled.

Even though we don’t have a Kentucky Derby on Saturday, the silver lining is we have not one but two Arkansas Derbies. Oaklawn had so many entries that it split the race into two divisions of 11 starters each, with full Kentucky Derby qualifying points on the line in both. Charlatan, from the Bob Baffert barn, is the even-money morning-line favorite in the first race, while Nadal, King Guilllermo and Wells Bayou vie for favoritism in the second.

My stable of handicapping friends and I will break down these races Saturday as well as plenty of others as we look for overlays on the Oaklawn undercard and at other racetracks around the country. Check out our “Tuley’s Thoroughbred Takes” column at or through the link in the free VSiN daily newsletter on Wednesday through Sunday mornings. And don’t forget to check the file again after noon EDT or 9 a.m. PDT for the daily scratches and changes.


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